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Around ten years ago, I read in a Swiss newspaper article in NZZ am Sontag about a mayor who was not accepted as a citizen of his own village. I have found the article on the internet:

«Dickschädel aus dem Laufental. Heinz Aebi, Gemeindepräsident, wird doch noch eingebürgert. Von David Hesse»

This article uses the word Einbürgerung in a context I don't understand. Normally, Einbürgerung means something like to obtain the citizenship of the country: I think in English it's naturalisation. In the aforementioned article, however, the canton government was calling upon all citizens born in other cantons to apply for Einbürgerung in their municipality. So this is not about foreigners applying for naturalisation as Swiss citizens, but Swiss people from one municipality applying for naturalisation in another municipality.

German is not my native language, so I am not sure if the summary below is correct. I think that the article is about a village, Nenzlingen, where permission for Einbürgerung (naturalisation) is decided by the Bürgerratsversammlung — in my understanding, a kind of council of elders, of all citizens calling the village their home. If I understand correctly, this council denied the Einbürgerung (naturalisation) of their own mayor, because he had not been loyal with the distribution of hunting rights.

Either I'm not understanding this correctly, or it is bizarre. The mayor of the village who does not get permission to become a citizen of the village. What does this mean? How does the Swiss system for Einbürgerung really work?

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    Where you've written "council of elderly", I think you might mean "council of elders" ... although the image of a villages decisions being made in the local care home is quite appealing :-) – user97 Jan 21 '13 at 21:08
  • Could this be something related to concepts such as "honorary citizenship" of a municipality? It generally doesn't hold any administrative/legal difference but has historical roots, IIRC. – user4012 Jan 21 '13 at 23:16
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To complement Bregalad's answer, note that this Einbürgerung is related to the concept of naturalisation you are familiar with. In Switzerland, the federal authorities merely issue an “authorisation” to become a Swiss citizen but (unlike just about any other central government I know) they are not empowered to make the final decision themselves.

That's because federal authorities are not in charge of naturalisations, the municipalities and cantons are, hence the notion of “becoming a citizen” of a given city. Swiss citizenship merely results from being a citizen of a canton and municipality. While it does entitle all Swiss citizens to a number of key rights and obligations valid everywhere in the country, like in any other modern country, historically and legally, it's seen as a set of distinct municipal citizenships.

Consequently, the exact procedure differs depending on the region/town and is not defined by federal law. And in some places, naturalisations (including regular applications from foreign residents, not only prominent ‘symbolic’ cases like the one you came across) were decided by a popular vote of all citizens of the municipality. But I think that the federal tribunal forbad the practice in a relatively recent court case (10-15 years ago IIRC), because such a refusal could not be adequately justified (and every applicant is at least entitled to a motivated refusal). That might be why the town backed down in this case instead of seeing their initial decision tested in court.

Whether naturalised recently or not, Swiss citizens remain officially attached to their “place of origin” (in German Bürgerort), which is mentioned in various documents and need not be the place where they were born or where they currently live.

Because of the primacy of this “local citizenship”, it's possible for Swiss citizens to ask to be “naturalised” into another municipality's citizenry. But for someone who is already a Swiss citizen, the implications are obviously more limited than for non-Swiss citizens. As your article illustrates, all Swiss citizens can take up residence, vote and be elected to local mandates wherever they want in Switzerland, so that many of them do not really care about their official “place of origin”.

For completeness, also note that some people (e.g. spouses of Swiss citizens) are also eligible for a “simplified” naturalisation procedure, in which the federal authorities do have the main role. People who become Swiss citizens based on their marriage thus take the “citizenship” of their spouse's place of origin, even if neither them nor any of their ancestors ever lived there.

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    Yes, and the later fact was criticized, as it leads to absurdities such as someone getting the place of origin of their spouse's ex. – Bregalad Apr 9 '15 at 20:11
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Historically, in Switzerland, you are really a citizen of a municipality, before being citizen of a canton and of the Swiss Confederation. There was also a strong tie between your family name and the Municipality, the entire family was citizen of a particular municipality. This is a concept that maps poorly to foreign countries and that is hard to explain to foreigners. If your name is XXX then you have to come from village YYY.

This has weaken considerably in the last 40 years, because more and more people got jobs in 2nd and 3rd economical sectors (instead of 1st sector) and thus had to leave their village to get the job or lifestyle they wanted to. So many people do not care as much as they used to. There is also more divorces and remarriages, making the tie between the family name and the village less obvious (in most divorces, the father, which transmits the name, is the one who has to leave). There's also immigration, so Swiss people with foreign names is a very common thing today, that almost didn't exist in the 60s for example.

It is possible under some circumstances to get citizenship of the municipality you're living in, even if you are already Swiss but citizen of another municipality. I do not think it is possible to do the process by yourself, the municipality has to offer you citizenship for some accomplishment you made. This is highly symbolic and the only impact this will ever have is that the name of a different village will show up on your official documents (ID card, driving licence, etc...). The municipality of citizenship also sometimes shows up on electoral lists, so if you are willing to get elected, it could matter.

Examples of what could be reasons of a municipality offering you and your family citizenship :

  • Your family has lived in the village for 3 generations
  • You did something exceptional to promote your municipality (like being mayor, or president of a local club for many years, or participated in the funding of something relevant for the village, etc..)
  • You are either rich or well-known (writer, artist, etc...) and have lived in the municipality, so it wants to reward you.

I am sorry to not be able to answer more accurately, but this is the best I can do for the experience I have.

(Note : I use the word "Village", but it can be interchanged for "Town" or "City" if you happen to live in one)

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